Exactly a week from today the parliamentary by-election in Veszprém County’s 3rd electoral district (Tapolca, Ajka, and environs) will take place. This district has been Fidesz territory for a long time. Jenő Lasztowicza, whose death necessitated the by-election, had represented the district since 1998. Last year the Fidesz candidate received 43.1% of the votes. Both the liberal-socialist and the Jobbik candidates trailed him by a wide margin, with 27.3% and 23.5% of the votes. Today the situation is apparently different. No one dares call the winner. The predictions one reads are merely guesswork. The only polling in the district was conducted by a company that is considered to be a Jobbik think tank. According to its results, the Fidesz and Jobbik candidates are neck to neck while the candidate of MSZP-DK is trailing badly.
The government party seems to be worried about its candidate’s chances. László Kövér, while visiting Tapolca, assured the party’s voters that winning the district has only “prestige value.” One extra vote on the government side makes no difference now that the two-thirds is gone, but what is important is electing a man who can represent the district well. That man, of course, is Zoltán Fenyvesi, the Fidesz candidate. Kövér said that Jobbik’s real message is a “Nazi ideology” while the MSZP-DK candidate is just a typical trade union leader. János Lázár was even more hard-hitting: there can be no choice in a race where the Fidesz candidate’s challengers are a Nazi and a communist. On the spot Fidesz activists are working very hard, occasionally using less than honorable methods against the Jobbik and MSZP-DK candidates. Both turned to the police to investigate the unknown culprit who has been distributing below-the-belt Fidesz campaign literature. It is getting ugly and we still have another week to go.
The government also decided to bolster the chances of the Fidesz candidate in Tapolca, where Jobbik is supposed to be strong. The Fidesz government was planning to close the small, inadequate local hospital, a decision that apparently turned even more voters toward Jobbik. The government suddenly found 2.3 billion forints for the renovation and modernization of the facility. A similar bribe didn’t work in Veszprém, and I doubt that it will work in Tapolca. Ajka, the largest town in the district, is an MSZP stronghold, but even here the government is attempting to induce voters to switch allegiance. Fenyvesi announced yesterday that the government will support the Le Bélier company with 507 million forints for a new project that will provide 100 new jobs in Ajka. The latest is that Viktor Orbán himself will campaign in Tapolca, where he is supposed to make an earthshakingly important announcement.
Will all this be enough? It is worth taking a look at an excellent article that appeared in HVG a few days ago: “Facts are hard to argue with: Fidesz in deep trouble.” The conclusion of the article is that although Fidesz is still leading nationwide according to opinion polls, when it comes to actual performance in elections it is doing very badly. Since the last national and local elections 37 by-elections were held, and Fidesz underwhelmed.
In these 37 by-elections Fidesz-KDNP nominated its own candidates in 11 (two national and nine local elections). It won only three of these 11 elections, and in one the Fidesz candidate ran unopposed. Jobbik has not been doing too well either. Its candidates ran in eight elections but won only two. The Jobbik candidate even lost in Tiszavasvár, which has a Jobbik mayor and which Gábor Vona called “the capital of Jobbik.” On the other hand, MSZP put up candidates in six elections and won in three. These wins were in addition to Veszprém, where Zoltán Kész was supported by MSZP-DK and the other democratic parties. One of the conclusions of this survey is that the democratic parties no longer have to hide behind independent candidates. An MSZP-DK candidate can win with explicit party support.
It was Ipsos that came out with the nationwide results that placed Jobbik only a few percentage points behind Fidesz, which scared not only Hungarians but democrats all over the world. Therefore, I think it is important to look at the results of surveys by five different polling companies taken at approximately the same time.
The problem with Fidesz is that it cannot motivate its voting base. Fidesz employs the most modern campaign techniques, using carefully constructed voter lists, but all this is in vain if alleged Fidesz supporters refuse to go out and vote for the party. HVG‘s article quotes a conversation between a Fidesz activist and a former Fidesz voter in Veszprém:
Good afternoon! On Sunday we are deciding on the successor of [Tibor] Navracsics. Surely, you will come and vote for Fidesz.
Well, let’s forget about that now, OK? I will vote for Fidesz again when I have a watch like János Lázár’s.
Jobbik has always had an enthusiastic voting base, but that was not the case with MSZP. Just the opposite. In the past Fidesz and Jobbik easily managed to get out the vote while MSZP supporters were hard to move, partly because the party’s campaign techniques were so poor. But lately MSZP voters have been ready to go to the polls in order to defeat Fidesz. And DK voters have always been a motivated lot. These parties need to recapture some of the voters they lost after 2008. That will not be an easy task, although it seems to me that Viktor Orbán and his minions are doing everything in their power to make the democratic opposition’s work easier.